Obituary: Ronald Brand

RONALD BRAND was an outstanding youth leader, teacher and humanitarian. As an inspirational leader of Forest School Camps for over 40 years, Brand opened up the countryside, as well as the support, love and learning which can be found in a small community, to many thousands of children and staff. He lived simply, giving generously and equally to all he met. He was also a dedicated political activist.

He was born in 1910, one of seven children, in Bermondsey, south-east London, where his father worked in a family fur business. He had a sound basic education at an enlightened school where he excelled in sports.

The influence which gave direction to his life was that of a youth movement, the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry (OWC), founded by Ernest Westlake during the First World War. Ernest's son, Aubrey, was a GP in Bermondsey and had founded one of the order's first experimental groups, of which Brand became a keen member.

The OWC had some common ground with the Scouts, but Ernest Westlake, in contrast to the soldier Baden-Powell, was a philosopher and anthropologist who believed that boys and girls in the cities needed the experience of living together in the woods and hills of the countryside where they could confront some of the conditions which their forebears in prehistoric times had to adapt and control in order to survive.

Apart from the many local youth groups, the OWC founded Forest School at its base near Fordingbridge, on the edge of the New Forest, and also a scheme for retraining unemployed men, the "Grith Fyrd" or Peace Militia.

Brand, on leaving school, became a laboratory technician at Guy's Hospital, in London, but was soon chosen as a staff leader at Grith Fyrd and later as a teacher at Forest School. Here some 25 children lived in huts in the woods and the school became well known as a progressive school with an emphasis on craft work and living in natural surroundings.

At Forest School Brand met, and in 1936 married, Ellen Meatyard (known to all as "N"), the school's first housemother. After the birth of their second child, unable to support a family on Forest School's token salary, Ron Brand became a school attendance officer with Surrey County Council.

Called up to the RAF in 1940, he was first trained in the medical service before being commissioned in signals and intelligence-gathering. In this role he took a small unit to the Normandy beachhead and enjoyed the camping conditions bemoaned by his colleagues. He was then posted to India, which he immediately loved, and developed a close feeling for the culture and poor workers of the sub-continent.

After a brief return to his job in Surrey, he took advantage of the one- year emergency retraining scheme to study and qualify as a teacher. He became a successful and highly valued teacher, specialising first in Physical Education and subsequently in English and remedial work in various Surrey comprehensive schools, until his retirement in 1975.

While still at college he had taken a leading part in establishing children's camps at Forest School's new base in Norfolk, where it had moved in 1938. It had been impractical to restart the school after its wartime closure, but the camps, known as Forest School Camps, struck an immediate chord with parents. They appreciated the simple but challenging experience for children aged six to 17 of sleeping in small tents on the ground, living with basic amenities, learning to use tools, to make fires for warmth and cooking and above all, to form for a fortnight a close and democratic community where every individual had his or her place and value.

Brand's administrative skills and energy led, in 1956, to his becoming the organising General Secretary. He had a clear vision of the educational value of the camps and provided inspiring personal leadership, but also he gave the camps an administrative base through which, by the 1960s, around 1,000 children a year were camping and taking part in some 20 activities.

The standing camps, each of about 65 children, were the foundation but the more adventurous participants went on to mobile activities, such as canoeing, cycling and lightweight hiking, both in this country and in Europe. Brand himself pioneered and led many of these camps and activities.

He remained General Secretary until soon after he retired from the children's activities in his seventies. He then undertook to organise an annual International Workcamp for young adults, mainly from Eastern Europe. He organised and led these from 1984 until his last camp, at the age of 81, still sleeping in his lightweight tent on the hard ground and still the first up to light the kitchen fire and sing the camp awake.

All his life Brand was active in politics, fired by the ideals of socialism and care for the underprivileged, first in the Independent Labour Party and then for years as a loyal supporter of the Communist Party. During the 1980s he was appointed OBE "for services to education" but refused it, unhappy with both the principle of the award and the Thatcher government's policies on education.

Ron Brand will be remembered by thousands of people, by the friends of his youth in the OWC and at Forest School, by the pupils to whom he gave so much and by the campers for whom "Beefy" was an inspirational figure who changed their lives.

Ronald Arthur Brand, teacher and youth leader: born London 30 July 1910; General Secretary, Forest School Camps 1956-86; married 1936 Ellen Meatyard (two sons, one daughter); died Salisbury, Wiltshire 12 October 1998.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering